Review: Audio-Technica ATH-WS55 Headphones

A while back, During CE Week, we mentioned that we saw some of the new offerings from Audio-Technica and how much we wanted to take a closer look at the ATH-W55 aka the Solid Bass headphones. We recalled that these headphones were packing a fairly serious punch during the show, but now that lights have come down and the crowds have dispersed, it’s time to really see how well these headphones sound.

The first thing we noticed out of the box is the size of these headphones. The ATH-W55 are super-aural headphones, not the circumaural style that we usually prefer and remember these being around that size. In case you’re not up on your personal and portable audio solution terminology, super aural are also known as on-ear headphones by most people. Circumaural are the much larger, dj-style, over the ear headphones that cover an entire ear.

The second thing we noticed was how soft the actual earcups felt. They’re covered in a faux leather like material and feel very pillow like. The top band also has the same material wrapping it, with more of the padding on the bottom to keep sensitive heads from hurting after hours of use. Outside of that padding the majority of the headphones is plastic, which needless to say, worried the hell out of us.

Plastic comprising the moving parts is what specifically scares us. We’ve not only seen, but have also had many a headset break on us.  That sound of something cracking as you stretch the headphones out to go on your head is nauseating. Moving on.

For headphones of this size, there are some very decent equipment packed in. The drivers are 40mm in diameter and packing a serious punch.  The cable for the earcups is 1.2 meters, which equals about 47.25 inches for the Americans in the audience. Interestingly, the cable is a Y-type design, which has the main cable splitting and heading up to each earcup. We took not of this because it’s been some time since we’ve seen this design for on-ear or over-ear headphones. The majority of headphones on the market today have single sided cabling. The earcups do rotate a full 90 degrees each, but the unit as a whole does not fold up.

The sound that the ATH-W55 produce is solid just as the name suggests. We feel that the best way to gauge a set of listening devices (or anything subjective really) is to have a baseline to compare it to. In this case we’re using a set of SkullCandy Hesh and the 1st gen Aerial 7 Tank. Also for comparasion’s sake, the types of music we’re using for testing are drum ‘n bass/dubstep. It only makes sense to use bass heavy music to test headphones that tout bass reproduction as their biggest feature.

In comparision to the baseline sets, the ATH-WS55 lands in the throne in terms of bass. The low ends are clear and heavy and don’t distort. We’ve had headsets in the past that put such an emphasis on bass that all of the low frequencies get distorted for the sake of having the hardest hitting bass possible. Audio-Technica did a great job of making sure that the bass the ATH-WS55 is clear. We did note that the bass can actually get very intense, to the point that pulling off the ATH-WS55’s seemed almost necessary. Oh the price of progress.

The all-important mid-range on the Audio-Technica headphones was surprisingly clear. We didn’t doubt that Audio-Technica would do a good job on the mid-range audio quality, but color us a bit surprised that nothing got lost in all of the rumbling of the low end. It didn’t hurt that the mid-range frequencies seemed a bit amplified. We ended up being to pick out subtle sounds and effects that we had previously never been able to catch. It’s always great to have a set of headphones that can reproduce  clear mids without sounding overly tinny or distorted otherwise.

The high end frequencies of the ATH-WS55 are very clear, but sound a little underwhelming. Don’t get us wrong, they highs here are very clear, but it’s hard to get them in the right balance. They’re either  being overpowered from the bass or, as more often the case, trying too hard and screeching over the bass. It’s not by much, but the overcompensation does wear on you after extended use.

Speaking of which, the fit of the ATH-WS55 is very snug, to the point of being almost too snug. We noticed that our ears began to feel sore within an hour of continuous use which is definitely not ideal if you plan to wear these for long stretches of time. Thankfully, the ear cups are slightly adjustable and stay once they’re positioned. That helps move the stress that the earcups can place on certains parts of the ear to other areas. The snugness of the fit also makes the ATH-WS55 into a psuedo noise-blocking headphones. They might not actually cancel out sounds from outside, but all of that noise pollution is going to have a hard time getting in your ear.

 

The Audio-Technica ATH-WS55 headphones are great headphones, especially given the price tag of $99.95. The styling will fit most consumers’ sensiblities as it’s very stoic and will blend well with various different attire. We won’t recommend going to a cocktail party with a set of these, unless you’re the hired DJ for the night. The sound quality and reproduction is nothing short of amazing. Like the name touts, bass is really the sound du jour and really kicks, but the mids and highs have not been forgotten and they all come together to form a formidable listening experience.

The Marduk Rating:

 Purchase

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